Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc., No. 19-50691

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtJames C. Ho, Circuit Judge
Citation986 F.3d 536
Parties Martha GONZALEZ, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff—Appellee, v. CORECIVIC, INCORPORATED, Defendant—Appellant.
Decision Date20 January 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19-50691

986 F.3d 536

Martha GONZALEZ, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff—Appellee,
v.
CORECIVIC, INCORPORATED, Defendant—Appellant.

No. 19-50691

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

FILED January 20, 2021


Iain Gordon Simpson, Simpson, P.C., Josef Franz Buenker, Thomas Henry Padgett, Jr., Esq., Buenker Law Firm, Houston, TX, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Nicholas D. Acedo, Esq., Struck Love Bojanowski & Acedo, P.L.C., Chandler, AZ, for Defendant-Appellant.

Michael Meriwether Hethmon, Senior Counsel, Immigration Reform Law Institute, Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae Immigration Reform Law Institute.

Before Smith, Ho, and Oldham, Circuit Judges.

James C. Ho, Circuit Judge:

Judges are not legislators. Legislators write laws—judges faithfully interpret them. So if a party wishes to have its activities exempted from a statute, it must ask the Legislature to enact such an exemption, not the judiciary.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) imposes civil liability on "[w]hoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person" by certain coercive means. 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a). See also id. § 1595 (civil remedy). CoreCivic claims its work programs categorically fall outside the reach of this forced-labor prohibition. But the text of the Act contains no such detainee-labor exemption. CoreCivic simply theorizes that Congress would not have wanted the law to reach work programs like the ones it runs.

We agree with the district court as well as the Eleventh Circuit in rejecting this theory and therefore affirm. See Barrientos v. CoreCivic, Inc. , 951 F.3d 1269, 1276–78 (11th Cir. 2020).

I.

CoreCivic is a private company that operates detention facilities holding alien detainees on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As part of its contract with ICE, CoreCivic provides a work program for the detainees. See U.S. IMMIGRATION & CUSTOMS ENF ’ T , PERFORMANCE - BASED NATIONAL DETENTION STANDARDS 2011 § 5.8(I), (V) (PBNDS). The PBNDS requires these work programs to be voluntary. Id. at § 5.8(II)(2).

But according to Martha Gonzalez, a former detainee, CoreCivic's work programs are not voluntary. In truth, she says, CoreCivic forced her to clean the detention facilities, cook meals for company events, engage in clerical work, provide barber services for fellow detainees, maintain landscaping, and other labors. And if she refused, the company would impose more severe living conditions, including solitary confinement, physical restraints, and deprivation of basic human needs such as personal hygiene products.

CoreCivic moved to dismiss on the ground that the TVPA does not regulate "labor performed by immigration detainees in lawful custody." Or to rephrase it more bluntly, that its activities are categorically exempt from the TVPA. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the plain terms of § 1589(a) cover labor conducted by immigration detainees in a private detention center. See Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc. , 2019 WL 2572540, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2019).

986 F.3d 538

The district court then granted CoreCivic's motion to certify the following question for interlocutory appeal: "Whether the TVPA applies to work programs in federal immigration detention facilities." We agreed to accept the appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

II.

"In statutory interpretation disputes, a court's proper starting point lies in a careful examination of the ordinary meaning and structure of the law itself." Food Mktg. Inst. v. Argus Leader Media , ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2356, 2364, 204 L.Ed.2d 742 (2019).

Together, §§ 1589(a) and 1595 impose civil liability on "[w]hoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of" four coercive methods. 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a). See also id. § 1595 (civil remedy). CoreCivic contends that this language does not capture labor performed in work programs in a federal immigration detention setting.

But nothing in the text supports this claim. CoreCivic is clearly an entity covered by the term "whoever." See 1 U.S.C. § 1 (defining "whoever" to include "corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals"). It has clearly "obtain[ed]" the labor of these alien detainees. See Obtain , AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY (5th ed. 2011) (defining "obtain" as "[t]o succeed in gaining possession of as the result of planning or endeavor; acquire"). And CoreCivic does not even try to dispute that the term "person" naturally encompasses alien detainees.

Instead, CoreCivic theorizes that, if we apply § 1589 to its work programs, then as night follows day, we must also apply it to parents who compel their children to do ordinary household chores. The argument does not bear scrutiny. By that logic, a thief who steals a toy from a child could avoid a larceny conviction by claiming that no one would convict a parent for taking his child's toy away for misbehavior. That argument would surely fail. And that is presumably because we do not construe criminal statutes like larceny or battery to reflexively apply to the parent-child relationship, but rather read them in light of parents’ well-established rights over their own children. Indeed, the Supreme Court has applied this principle to the Constitution, observing that "the Thirteenth Amendment was not intended to apply to ‘exceptional’ cases well established in the common law at the time of the Thirteenth Amendment, such as ‘the right of parents and guardians to the custody of their minor children or wards.’ " United States v. Kozminski , 487 U.S. 931, 944, 108 S.Ct. 2751, 101 L.Ed.2d 788 (1988) (quoting Robertson v. Baldwin , 165 U.S. 275, 282, 17 S.Ct. 326, 41 L.Ed. 715 (1897) ). And the same logic applies here: Not every parent in America is a slaveowner, and not every parent in America is a human trafficker. As CoreCivic acknowledges, the Sixth Circuit had little trouble concluding that "forcing children to do household chores cannot be forced labor without reading [ § 1589 ] as making most responsible American parents and guardians into federal criminals .... An American parent has always had the right to make his child perform household chores." United States v. Toviave , 761 F.3d 623, 625 (6th Cir. 2014).

Alternatively, CoreCivic claims that § 1589 must be construed narrowly to cover only forced labor that arises in the international human trafficking context. To support that claim, it cites various Congressional findings that express concerns specific to international human trafficking. But the text of § 1589 itself is broad, and

986 F.3d 539

not limited to forced labor in the international human trafficking context.

CoreCivic also invokes Bond v. United States , 572 U.S. 844, 134 S.Ct. 2077, 189 L.Ed.2d 1 (2014), for the proposition that "[p]art of a fair reading of statutory text is recognizing that ‘Congress legislates against the backdrop’ of certain unexpressed presumptions." Id. at 857, 134 S.Ct. 2077 (quoting EEOC v. Arabian Am. Oil Co. , 499 U.S. 244, 248, 111 S.Ct. 1227, 113 L.Ed.2d 274 (1991) ). According to CoreCivic, one such "unexpressed presumption" is that detainees would continue to be subject to work requirements in the detention context.

But that overreads Bond . Bond concerns federalism and "the well-established principle that it is incumbent upon the federal courts to be certain of Congress’ intent before finding that federal law overrides the usual constitutional balance of federal and state powers." Id. at 858, 134 S.Ct. 2077 (cleaned up). See also Loughrin v. United States , 573 U.S. 351, 362, 134 S.Ct. 2384, 189 L.Ed.2d 411 (2014) (same). Bond does not give courts a free-floating power to create statutory exemptions anytime a judge thinks Congress would have exempted a certain activity had anyone asked.

Because it lacks any serious textual argument, CoreCivic is forced to resort to extratextual considerations. It quotes extensively from the legislative history of the TVPA to bolster its argument that § 1589(a) applies only to international human trafficking—and thus not to work programs in federal immigration detention facilities. But legislative history cannot " ‘muddy’ the meaning of ‘clear statutory language.’ " Food Mktg. Inst. , 139 S. Ct. at 2364 (quoting Milner v. Dep't of the Navy , 562 U.S. 562, 572, 131 S.Ct. 1259, 179 L.Ed.2d 268 (2011) ).

Finally, CoreCivic invokes the rule of lenity. But that canon of interpretation has force only where a law is "grievously ambiguous, meaning that the court can make no more than a guess as to what the statute means." Shular v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S. Ct. 779, 789, 206 L.Ed.2d 81 (2020) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring). And § 1589(a) does not contain a categorical exemption—not even an ambiguous one—for work programs in detention facilities.

* * *

Because on its face § 1589 unambiguously protects labor performed in work programs in federal immigration detention facilities, the "judicial inquiry is complete." Rubin v. United States , 449 U.S. 424, 430, 101 S.Ct. 698, 66 L.Ed.2d 633 (1981). We affirm.1

James C. Ho, Circuit...

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3 practice notes
  • Earl v. Boeing Co., Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-507
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • January 27, 2021
    ...Obliging this request would thrust the Court into an arena in which it does not belong. See Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc. , No. 19-50691, 986 F.3d 536, 537 (5th Cir. Jan. 20, 2021) ("Legislators write laws—judges faithfully interpret them."). The question "is not what Congress ......
  • Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau v. All Am. Check Cashing, Inc., 18-60302
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 2, 2022
    ...is closely limited to the order appealed from, but not to the specific stated question."). See also Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc. , 986 F.3d 536, 542 (5th Cir. 2021) (Oldham, J., dissenting) ("[T]he text of § 1292(b), Yamaha, Stanley, Castellanos-Contreras [v. Decatur Hotels, LLC , ......
  • Smith v. Commonwealth, 3:21-cv-288-BJB-CHL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • November 19, 2021
    ...Cir. 2019) (upholding application of civil remedy to sexual abuse by government employee serving overseas); Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc., 986 F.3d 536, 537 (5th Cir. 2021) (upholding application of civil remedy against private facility detaining immigrants on behalf of the federal government......
3 cases
  • Earl v. Boeing Co., Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-507
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • January 27, 2021
    ...Obliging this request would thrust the Court into an arena in which it does not belong. See Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc. , No. 19-50691, 986 F.3d 536, 537 (5th Cir. Jan. 20, 2021) ("Legislators write laws—judges faithfully interpret them."). The question "is not what Congress ......
  • Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau v. All Am. Check Cashing, Inc., 18-60302
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 2, 2022
    ...is closely limited to the order appealed from, but not to the specific stated question."). See also Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc. , 986 F.3d 536, 542 (5th Cir. 2021) (Oldham, J., dissenting) ("[T]he text of § 1292(b), Yamaha, Stanley, Castellanos-Contreras [v. Decatur Hotels, LLC , ......
  • Smith v. Commonwealth, 3:21-cv-288-BJB-CHL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • November 19, 2021
    ...Cir. 2019) (upholding application of civil remedy to sexual abuse by government employee serving overseas); Gonzalez v. CoreCivic, Inc., 986 F.3d 536, 537 (5th Cir. 2021) (upholding application of civil remedy against private facility detaining immigrants on behalf of the federal government......

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